Holiday rental scam – criminal organisation dismantled

by Lorraine Williamson
criminal organisations

MADRID – As reported yesterday by the Guardia Civil, an international criminal organisation into vaccation fraud has been dismantled.

They are alleged to have committed online scams by selling fake holiday rentals, cloning credit cards, and committing fraud by selling vacation packages. The gang is credited with profits of more than €4million.

Money mules

The organisation recruited people in vulnerable situations to act as “money mules” for their operations.

To move the capital generated through its criminal activity, the organisation inserted job advertisements on internet portals. Thereafter, specific candidates were selected to act as “mules” of money. These mules were expected to be holders of bank accounts, where the victims entered the defrauded amounts. Futhermore, the funds were then quickly moved through opaque financial circuits to the upper echelons of the organisation.

Operation “CHEAT-STAY”

In a joint operation carried out by the Guardia Civil and the Ertzaintza (Basque police force), called “CHEAT-STAY”, ten people (5 in Madrid, 2 in Guipúzcoa, 2 in Malaga and 1 in Seville) have been arrested. A further twenty are being investigated in Madrid, Andalucia, and Euskadi in the Basque Country.

Cogesa Expats

Searches of five homes have been carried out in the provinces of Madrid and Guipúzcoa. The detainees are charged with the alleged crimes of aggravated fraud, belonging to a criminal organisation, money laundering, identity theft and document falsification.

Common denominator

The operation began three years ago, when agents detected a series of scams in tourist rentals. These anomalies had a common denominator. All the homes offered were fraudulently advertised as located in different towns on the Cadiz coast.

As the investigations progressed, it was discovered that both the Civil Guard and the Ertzaintza were looking into the same activities. Therefore, it was decided to create a joint investigation team.

Coordinated criminal organisation

The research carried out confirmed these were not simple isolated actions, but the result of a perfectly orchestrated hierarchical international organisation.

This investigation revealed the activities carried out by the organisation would have affected more than 300 people. Either through the fraudulent rental of flats and vacation packages, credit card cloning, or intervention in purchase and sale operations of hotel complexes.

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